Fight continues to make public places, workplaces smoke-free
Oklahoma is one of only three states that allow smoking in bars. That won't change any time soon.
Legislation addressing the issue did not advance this year because of strong opposition from tobacco lobbyists and the state chamber.
Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, authored the Oklahoma Workplace Clean Air Act, prohibiting smoking in indoor public places — including bars — and in all enclosed areas where people work.
"The most controversial part was the no smoking in bars. After the State Chamber of Oklahoma came out against it, I backed off," Wright said. "The tobacco industry lobbyists weren't totally honest about what my bill included."
Wright said the bill likely would have passed in the House, but not in the Senate. He intends to ask for an interim study in the fall and come back next session with a modified bill or new legislation.
Ensuring all public places are smoke-free is a top priority of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. TSET was created by a statewide vote in 2000 following the settlement of a multi-state lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
"We are in a sacred trust with the voters to reduce smoking and improve health outcomes. Our board takes that seriously," said Julie Bisbee, TSET executive director. "There's no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke."
TSET also supports raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 and prohibiting smoking in vehicles with children present.
A bill introduced by Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami, to increase the age to buy tobacco failed to get traction this session, and no legislation was filed addressing smoking in cars with children.
"It's encouraging that these conversations are happening at the Legislature. We will continue to educate on those things," Bisbee said.
The effort is more of a marathon than a sprint.
"Tobacco is an addiction. You just can't tell people to stop," she said. "Most smokers take five or six tries to quit."
The adult smoking rate in Oklahoma is 20% compared to 17% nationally. The rate was 28.7% in 2001, so efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use are working, Bisbee said.
"A few years ago we looked at similar states, and the rate declined 10 times faster in Oklahoma than peer states," she said. "Long-term investments in prevention really do pay off."
Legislation curtailing tobacco use always is challenged by lawmakers who oppose government control, Wright said.
"They don't like that idea. They don't think government has any business telling people what to do," he said.
However, progress has been made over the years.
Prohibiting smoking in restaurants was "a big fight," but finally passed, Wright said. "That has helped and people have accepted it."